What is occupational asthma?
According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, occupational asthma is caused by inhaling fumes, gases, dust, or other potentially harmful substances while on the job. Occupational asthma has become the most common work-related lung disease amongst developed countries. It is estimated that up to 15% of asthma cases in America may be job related. Despite governmental regulations established to protect the quality of workplace air, asthma triggered by exposure to chemical pollutants is on the rise.
How can I tell if my asthma symptoms are workplace related?
Do you notice your asthma symptoms flaring up while you are at work or only during the work week? Does time away from work seem to abate your symptoms? If you notice that your asthma symptoms lessen or subside on weekends or during vacations from work, it is time to seek out the advice of a medical professional on whether or not your symptoms are caused by pollutants present in your workplace air.
With occupational asthma, it is important to note the length of time you are exposed to a substance before it triggers your asthma. This time may vary greatly from person to person. Many months or even years may pass before symptoms become noticeable. However, exposure to high amounts of irritants can cause asthma symptoms in as little as 24 hours.
Who is at the greatest risk to develop job related asthma?
People who suffer from allergies or who suffered from asthma as a child are more likely to suffer from occupational asthma. A family history of allergies also increases your risk. The specific irritants and pollutants that you are exposed to at work also play a crucial role in determining who is at risk. If you are a smoker, you are at an increased risk for developing asthma. Also, if you already suffer from asthma, exposure to chemical pollutants may worsen your condition and increase the frequency and intensity of your symptoms.
There are some specific irritants proven to induce occupational asthma when exposure levels are high. Hydrochloric acid, sulfur dioxide, and ammonia are known to trigger asthma symptoms in workers after exposure to high concentrations of these chemicals or after prolonged exposure.
How can I get an accurate diagnosis for occupational asthma?
Unfortunately, many people that suffer from asthma induced by airborne contaminants in the workplace are incorrectly diagnosed with bronchitis. If you suspect you are suffering from occupational asthma, an allergist/immunologist is most qualified to provide you with the correct diagnosis. Chemical or particulate testing may be requested. Office Air Check can help to determine your chemical exposure at work.